The members of the North Carolina General Assembly will have next week off from recorded voting sessions while House and Senate leadership discuss which of the remaining bills to bring forward to their respective chambers as the days left in this year’s legislative session fly by. While the Senate has scheduled an adjournment date of October 31st, with or without holding a vote to override the Governor’s budget veto, the House has yet to commit to an official adjournment date. As legislative leadership tries to clear their calendars before the end of the month, both bodies are set to continue moving forward with mini budget proposals and bills with wide bipartisan support.
Both the House and the Senate will hold their next voting sessions when they return from next week’s fall break on Monday, October 21.
Voters in 38 municipalities across the state of North Carolina made their way to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots on bonds, mayors, and city council members. In Raleigh, the mayor and all seven members of the city council were up for election this year. The mayor and the two at-large city council seats are voted on by all Raleigh residents while the five other district city council members are elected by their respective district residents. While all of the votes have now been counted in the Raleigh municipal elections, the race may be far from over for several candidates who will likely face a runoff election in November. Candidates must have captured 50% plus 1 of the votes to avoid the possibility of a runoff election next month.
With the current city of Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane announcing earlier in the year that she would not be seeking reelection, the field was wide open for the six candidates who threw their name in the ring for this year’s mayoral race. Mary-Ann Baldwin ended the night with over 38% of the vote, putting her in first place as she will likely head into a runoff race against Charles Francis. Francis, who received 31% of the vote, was in this same boat after the last mayoral election when he ran against current Mayor Nancy McFarlane. Caroline Sullivan, who received the current mayor’s endorsement and was the highest fundraiser in the race, fell short with 20% of the vote. Zainab Baloch, Justin Sutton, and George Knott were strong candidates during the campaign but were not able to keep up on election night, coming in with less than 10% of the vote combined.
In the race for Raleigh’s at-large city council seats, the two candidates with the most votes are elected. However, to avoid a runoff, each of the two candidates must reach 25% of the vote. If two candidates are not able to reach the threshold, the third-place candidate has the ability to challenge through a runoff election. This is likely the scenario that will unfold after Tuesday's results in Raleigh. One at-large candidate, incumbent Nicole Stewart, won her seat outright with 33% of the vote and will not face a potential runoff race next month. Jonathan Melton, just shy of the threshold, received 23% of the vote, giving him a strong second place finish. But six-term incumbent, Russ Stephenson, with 19% of the vote, will likely challenge Melton to a runoff race for the second at-large city council seat.
Raleigh City Council District A voters elected Patrick Buffkin with almost 53% of the vote against Sam Hershey and Joshua Bradley, who trailed Buffkin with 36% and 10% of the vote respectively. About an hour after precincts began reporting election results, city council incumbent David Cox secured the threshold needed to hold on to his District B seat against challenger Brian Fitzsimmons. The race for the District C seat was also clear early in the night as incumbent Corey Branch was reelected with over 63% of the vote. Branch was challenged for the District C seat, was challenged by Shelia Alamin-Khasoggi, Wanda Hunter, and Ricky Scott.
While it is unclear whether or not we will see a runoff race for Raleigh’s District D seat, voters indicated that it may be time for a change as incumbent Kay Crowder came in second place with 33% of the vote. Challenger Saige Martin received over 47% of the vote, giving him a strong first place finish for the night, but without hitting the 50% plus 1 threshold needed to avoid a runoff, the race may not be over for the District D seat just yet. Brittany Bryan and April Parker captured about 20% of the vote combined.
Finally, in one of the biggest upsets of the night, District E incumbent Stef Mendell, with 30% of the vote, fell early in the night against challenger David Knight, who finished with just shy of 70% of the vote.
Raleigh voters showed the city council that it may be time to switch things up as many multi-term incumbents struggled to hang onto their city council seats. Even so, the council will still see some familiar faces moving forward. With five of the eight municipal races coming to a close after Tuesday night’s results, three contests will continue facing new challenges as they head into November runoff races. For more information on the results of the Raleigh municipal election, or for an update on any of the other elections that took place across the state on Tuesday, visit the North Carolina State Board of Elections information page here.
After a quick trip through the Senate committee process and a unanimous vote on the Senate floor Thursday morning, a bill to amend a number of the state’s finance laws, consistent with the language in HB 966: 2019 Appropriations Act, now awaits the return of House lawmakers before being sent off to the Governor’s desk. HB 399: Extend Tax Credits/Other Finance Changes will delay the sunsets of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, the sales tax exemption for aviation gasoline and jet fuel, and the sales tax exemption and refund for professional motor-sports racing teams such as NASCAR, for four years. The bill will also allow railroad stations to be eligible for the Mill Rehabilitation Tax Credit so long as the railroad station meets a list of conditions, including being located in a tier one or two area and is a certified historic structure. HB 399 extends the sunset of the dry cleaning solvent tax for 10 years and sets the insurance regulatory charge at 6.5% for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year. Lastly, the bill lays out two appropriations to the Department of Revenue from the Collections Assistance Fee Special Fund. $4,400,000 in nonrecurring funds, for both years of the biennium, will be used to contract with a third party organization in order to perform identity theft and tax fraud analysis with the Government Data Analytics Center (GDAC). The second appropriation consists of $12,500,000 in nonrecurring dollars for the 2019-2020 fiscal year for costs related to tax systems operations and maintenance upgrades. The bill follows the mini budget theme of the week as it deals with a handful of finance provisions included in the vetoed budget bill.
Mini Budget Bills
A series of mini budget proposals made their way through the legislature this week and now sit on Governor Roy Cooper's desk awaiting his signature. Lawmakers have been pushing through piecemeal budget proposals to ensure departments and programs have the money needed to continue operations as the legislative session comes to a close. HB 100: DOT Budget for 2019-2021 Biennium contains the same language that was included in the original transportation section of this year's vetoed budget bill. Over the next two years, the bill will provide a total of $130 million to North Carolina's Department of Transportation to fund the Strategic Transportation Initiatives Program. The bill also makes changes to the appropriation schedule of the Highway Trust Fund in lieu of the jet fuel tax moratorium extension that may be addressed in a separate bill further down the road. Legislators have been clear that this bill does not contain a loan or cash infusion to the Department of Transportation to address the backlog of projects that continue to pile up.
HB 1001: Raise the Age Funding also contains the same language as its respective budget provisions, with two exceptions - additional funding for assistant district attorneys in a number of districts and annual funding for court counselors. The bill appropriates the funding needed to implement North Carolina's Raise the Age program, a program that places 16- and 17- year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult justice system as the law currently states. In total, the bill allocates $77 million over the next two years for program implementation costs.
The third mini budget bill that now sits before the Governor is aimed at expanding broadband access to rural communities through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. HB 387: Growing G.R.E.A.T. consists of budget bill language to allocate an additional $15 million to the program and expand to tier two counties beginning in July of 2020. Currently, only tier one counties are eligible for the grants.